Vigorous study of the early Mormon settlement in Illinois, linking its founding to a rising anti-democratic tradition.
Park (History/Sam Houston State Univ.; American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833, 2018, etc.) joins the history of Mormonism—a term used throughout the book but one that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to be distancing itself from—to that of Puritanism as a breakaway political movement whose members “believed the nation had forgotten its true purpose and was in need of a return to divine values.” In the case of the Mormons, that return involved a repudiation of the Constitution in favor of a document called the Council of Fifty, which “rejected America’s democratic system as a failed experiment and sought to replace it with a theocratic kingdom.” Thus the Kingdom of Nauvoo, on the Mississippi River, a place very different from the Utah in which the Mormons eventually took shelter. Persecuted by neighbors and officials for polygamy and sedition, the Mormon residents of Nauvoo—12,000 of them in 1844, by Park’s reckoning—also suffered internal divisions, including a famed disagreement between Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his wife Emma over what she regarded to be widespread sexual impropriety. As a force meant to clean society of its evils, the Mormons attracted plenty of like-minded converts, including a handful of African Americans and Native Americans who were definitively second-class citizens in the new order. Park allows that the Mormons had a point to make and that they were not alone in protesting a democracy that had witnessed much impropriety itself since the days of the Revolution, including “legal precedents based on the flimsiest of judicial decisions and political traditions established in the wake of corrupt electoral bargains.” The author effectively links the Mormon critique to other dissidents, including the states' rights advocates who would lead the secessionist movement and modern-day dissidents who “flagrantly challenge the political and legal system” and reject the nation’s democratic precepts.
A welcome contribution to American religious and political history.